Thursday, 4 February 2016

life lessons from a pet rat

My rat, Yuureii, died at the end of January. She'd had a mammary tumour since last October and I'd decided against surgery on the grounds she was over two, and it would be a lot of stress for possibly not much extra life expectancy. As it was, she was perfectly well until the day before she died although she'd lost a lot of weight. She went rapidly downhill (as small animals do) and died in my arms on a Monday evening.

Yuureii was never keen on being handled, but she loved hiding inside my cardigan or pockets, where she would sleep. We eventually bonded in a way I never expected with such a difficult character, and she taught me more than I probably ever taught her. Yes,  animals don't have the same understanding of life as we do, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from them. And here's what I learned from a feisty albino rat with an attitude problem.

Patience and perseverance pay off
I rehomed Yuureii and her sister Nezumi when they were a year old, in July 2014. Nezumi was laidback and easy from the start, whereas Yuureii was awkward and scatty, and I had many painful bites to prove that point. I couldn't hold her for the first few weeks; I would catch her in a box then sit on the stairs while I let her run around on my lap and explore the stairs until she gradually got used to me.

It was tempting just to leave her as a cage rat and focus on the amiable Nezumi. But I didn't; I persevered for weeks. Weeks of just sitting on the stairs watching her run around, and learning to anticipate her moves so I could figure out how best to pick her up without losing a finger. I couldn't rush things; they had to be done at her pace, so that's how we worked. And we got there in the end. She simply didn't like being handled, but we compromised.

Be yourself even if no one else likes it
No one else was keen on Yuureii. Adam didn't mind her but he much preferred Nezumi, likewise with my sister. And to be honest, if a visitor wanted to hold a rat, I wouldn't give them Yuureii anyway. If she bit me, fine, but I'd rather she didn't bite others.

She just was who she was, whether people liked it or not, and she was perfectly happy. Not that I'm suggesting its OK to go around biting people, but its a reminder that we'll always be happier in ourselves if we actually be ourselves, and that it doesn't matter if people like us or not. Nezumi and I liked her regardless, and we were the only rat and person (??) who mattered in her tiny world.

Adapt to changes
Yuureii's tumour started small but was almost 7cm diameter when she died. Sometimes it got in her way - she couldn't climb as much as she did, and the extra weight meant her balance was sometimes off, but mostly she accepted it. She would sit and groom it, and she learned a new method of getting into her hammock with less effort.

That isn't to say she didn't try to fight it. She would still try to run along my arms even though she was at a much greater risk of falling, and she occasionally fell from the platform in the cage because she had misjudged it. But she would pick herself up and keep going, finding ways to adapt and live her life as best she could.

When the time comes to go, go
Watching Yuureii die was heart breaking. I had booked her in to be euthanized the next morning but as the evening wore on I knew she wouldn't make it through the night. I worried she was suffering but on hindsight it was fair to say she mostly just slept until a small battle at the end as she fought for breath. It wasn't much of a fight though; just an instinctive attempt to keep breathing before she succumbed.

Its kind of hard to put into words what I took from this. More of a knowing than something I can explain (which sounds stupidly profund, but there you go). It made me feel the same way that autumn does - sad yet somehow accepting. I guess death is one of the few inevitable things in life, and the one thing we all have in common. Its as much a part of life as anything else, and in itself is nowhere near as scary as we think - our fears are more attached to loss and the thought of suffering.

Everyone deserves a chance
Every time Yuureii curled up asleep inside my cardigan, and on the rare occasions she would sit in my hand, I took great pride in both myself and her for getting to this stage. It's amazing how much difference time and perseverance made to her. With that in mind, I've now adopted two more older rats who were struggling to find an home because they have various issues. I'm hoping to give them a loving home and a chance to flourish, like Yuureii did.

What lessons have you learned from your pets? Those that have died or that are still with you

Monday, 1 February 2016

how I evolved in january

January 2016 was a strange month of nasty weather and high-profile celebrity deaths. And it seems to have also been an all-round shit month for many people, as a few folk I know are looking on February as being the true start to 2016, as they just want to write January off completely.

It wasn't too bad for me, to be fair. I did lose one of my rats :-( but I'm looking at it more along the lines of I had her with me for almost all of January, so that's not so bad.

My word for 2016 is EVOLVE, and I'm trying to be conscious of the small and large things I do on a daily basis that help me evolve. That is, anything that involves learning a new skill, trying something new, going somewhere new, pushing me out my comfort zone or heading more towards the ideal life I'd like to live.

January was a quiet month for me, too cold to be out and about. I've barely gone far from home but have still managed to try some new things.

  • I learned how to blanche and freeze a turnip 
  • I managed to bleed my own radiators
  • After years of putting it off, I finally mastered matched betting, and made £70!
  • I did an short online course in photography, so can now actually use my camera in manual mode
  • I've enrolled locally in a year-long group life coaching group that will hopefully help make 2016 awesome for all of us
  • I've written and submitted one short story every week, rather than sporadically like I usually do

I didn't really have a theme for January, I just wanted to kind of figure out where I wanted the year to go. My theme for February is to be productive and get some loose ends tied up, by doing some things I've been putting off. So some things I'm thinking about doing: 

  • Finish my crocheted cushion cover
  • Finish the 4 courses I'm currently doing (!!!)
  • Darn my pile of holey socks
  • Dye the zip-up top that got bleach on it
  • Sort out the cupboard above the kettle
  • Book Bowen Therapy for my constant neck and shoulder pain
  • Do my next level of Reiki training
  • Phone student loans for the balance of my smallest loan and get it paid off

How was your January? Any plans for February?

Saturday, 23 January 2016

project 333: month 1

In this post I mentioned I would be doing Project 333 during 2016.

It's now the end of month one. I thought I would be tearing my hair out and lamenting the lack of clothing choices, but its been fine.

At the end of December I prepared my 33 items for January and February (I'm doing the first batch as 2 months only due to seasonal changes - the rest of the year will be in 3 month batches). My 33 items are as follows:
Jacket x 1
Boots x 3 pairs
Handbag x 1
Necklace x 1
Jeans x 5
Skirt x 1
T shirts x 5
Long sleeved t shirts x 2
Vests x 2
Dress x 1
Tunic x 1
Jumpers/cardigans x 10

Also the following items not included in the 33:

Yoga trousers x 1
Yoga t shirt x 1
Work jacket/fleece/t shirts x 7
Pyjamas x 2 sets
Hat/gloves/scarf x 1 of each
Slippers x 1 pair
Trainers for keeping at the back door for when I need to nip outside! x 1 pair
All underwear

The photo above shows most of of my current 33. And excuse the shit photography; taking a decent photo was the least of my worries when I was faffing about with this. Indeed, picking the 33 items was tricky as I was trying to cover as many eventualities as I could. In the end I mostly went for layers, because its winter.

And yup, so far its been OK. I had to remove one cardigan because there was a jumper in the wash I'd forgotten about, but otherwise there's been no changes and it hasn't been a hassle. Here's what I've learned so far:
  •  I can live with less clothes than I thought
  • Less choice means less indecision
  • I'm creating pairings and combinations I otherwise wouldn't have gone for
  • I could probably live without jewellery
  • Most of my jeans are starting to wear between the thighs, and nearly every t shirt has a secret rat bite somewhere

I'm keeping a list of how often I wear each item so I'll get a picture of what I never wear so I can get rid of stuff. My opinion of the project may change over the coming months, but that remains to be seen.

Are you doing Project 333? How are you finding it?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

on eating meat and plucking pheasants

I make no apologies for the above photograph. Unless you're a non-meat eater, in which case I'm sorry you had to see it. But please read on, as I would like your thoughts on this.

The above photo was taken by my sister. It's my Dad and I plucking a pair of pheasants. I'll explain that shortly. My sister put the photo on Facebook, and a couple of people took offence. I assumed they were vegetarians/vegans, therefore I could understand their disgust, but she tells me they're not. In which case, as far as I'm concerned they have no reason to be offended. I get that some people are squeamish, but their issue was the fact that 'poor birds' were being plucked.

Firstly, I'll explain the pheasants. A colleague at work was gifted them but didn't know how to pluck/gut them so didn't want them. No one else knew how to deal with them so I offered to take them. If I hadn't, they would have gone to landfill. A complete waste of two lives as the creatures were dead anyway. So this is how I came to find myself plucking pheasants on a Tuesday evening.

I had never done this before. But a few years ago I went fishing with my boyfriend and caught a mackerel. I told him he would need to kill it, but he told me to do it myself. And it occurred to me that if I had no right to eat this fish if I wasn't willing to kill it myself. So I did.

The same goes with the pheasants. Rather than ask my Dad to prepare both birds, I decided to copy him and do one myself. I am a meat eater. This is where meat comes from. It was an education for me, and as someone who eats meat, I should not be precious about doing it. It wasn't the nicest experience and I did feel bad for the birds but unless I decided there and then never to eat meat again, I had to toughen up. And I did.

If we eat meat, how can we be offended by the sight of an animal being plucked/gutted/killed/whatever, provided it is for food purposes? This is where our food comes from. The very food we eat. I'm of the mind that everyone who eats meat should have to visit a slaughterhouse and a mart, just once, to see what happens. I've never killed anything other than that fish. But if I was given the option to (humanely) kill an animal for meat and found I couldn't do it, I shouldn't be eating meat. This assumption that meat 'grows on trees' then lands perfectly plucked and cleaned on our plates, really bugs me. It's nothing short of pure ignorance, and its downright insulting to the animals forced to give their lives just so we can eat them.

It's been pointed out that perhaps the issue was the fact they were wild animals. So if the pic had been of us plucking domestic chickens, that would be OK? I doubt it. Whether they're bred for the purpose of meat or not, is beside the point here. Pheasants are not endangered and these birds were not killed for sport as many others are. They were killed for the purpose of eating.

In all honesty, eating meat doesn't sit right with me. I don't like the idea of taking another life just so I can eat it. But I've tried being vegetarian and for various reasons it didn't work for me. I may try it again in the future.

For now though, my compromise is to eat minimal meat and be conscious of where I buy it, what it is, and where its come from. But I will not accept other meat eaters telling me I'm being 'cruel' for plucking a pheasant while they're sitting behind their computer screen tucking into a bacon sarnie. We're so far removed from where our food comes from that we get offended by the smallest reminder that we are infact eating the flesh of another creature.

Are you a meat-eater or vegetarian? Does it make sense for a meat-eater to be offended by the image of an animal being prepared for food? Do meat-eaters need to see where their food comes from, or is it OK to avoid awareness of that part of the process?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

on facing voluntary redundancy

Five years ago, one of us had to go. Someone in my department needed to be paid off. We each had our reasons as to why we thought the finger would point at us, and we worried how we would survive without a job. In the end, one colleague chose early retirement and gave the rest of us a reprieve. Panic over.

Redundancy is a horrible word. In context, it means your post is deleted; its nothing personal. But at the same time it feels personal. You are no longer needed; you are unwanted. Be gone.

This time, all employees have been asked to consider voluntary redundancy or reduced hours. And this time, I don't see it as a disaster, as a failure. This time I see it as an opportunity.

Maybe its the fact that its voluntary, that I have a choice this time. And after much deliberation, I made my choice. I've applied for it.

The Pros
  • I have 14 years service so I would get a year's pay in my hand. A whole year to figure out what to do next

  • I could take on part-time, short term work in the meantime, anything I fancied trying

  • I would have time to write more and to finish the courses I'm doing

The Cons
  • I'm so flaky that I never ever know what I want to do anyway, so the chances of me figuring out a concrete career path in the next year is slim (does this even matter in this day and age?). But this means I have an inherent fear of wasting opportunities

  • The jobs market up here is pathetic and its very much about who you know. I guess I could move - I'm not totally averse to that idea, but at the same time I'm not overly keen, and I don't want to be forced into it

  • My employer is the biggest in the Highlands. If I leave, its trickier to get back in. I may need them again someday

But despite the cons, it felt like the right thing to do. I've been half-heartedly looking for other work for a while, with no luck, so perhaps its time to jump. Bearing in mind my application may be rejected anyway - word is that the scheme is over-subscribed.

I came back to work after Chistmas with the intention of making a real effort and trying to enjoy it. But I can't. I do what I have to but that's it. Things I would once have considered a challenge, are now an inconvenience. I used to go out of my way to make and find projects for myself, but now I only do what I'm asked. That isn't to say I hate everything about working there; my line manager and higher management are on the whole excellent, and I like the majority of my colleagues. There is a certain culture within the organisation though; many sit around doing very little, simply because they can. There is no accountability. This means I'm often chasing my tail, as well as growing increasingly frustrated by the lacklustre efforts of others. But I'm at the stage where I just don't care anymore.

And I'm sick to death of getting grief from the public, all the time, about everything. I've had 14 years of it, and although I can handle it, I'm tired of it.

I'm also going to apply for reduced hours, so if nothing else I'll work a 4 day week which will allow some balance into my life. Not that my work takes over - when I come home at night I don't need to think about it until the next day. But I love the idea of one extra day to work on my own projects. I can afford the pay drop, and the extra time in my own life will be worth it.

I'm not naive enough to think redundancy will be easy. I'll still need to find work and I'll need to manage my money carefully. But at this stage in my life its an option worth considering. It's hard to get my head around how big a life change this decision is. Once I'm out, there's no going back. But I do believe things unfold as they should, so whatever happens will be the right thing to happen.

Here's to the future. Here's to evolving.

Have you ever been made redundant? Would you jump at the opportunity if the conditions were right?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Q: when is a brain tumour benign? A: never

Angie over at Brain Tumour Warrior wrote a wonderful post about the recent Eastenders story line of Alfie's brain tumour. I don't watch TV so I haven't seen the episode, but as stated on Angie's post, Ian Beale makes the comment, 'you could be worrying yourself sick, and it turns out to be benign.'

Oh dear.

Now, Angie's post says it all and I highly recommend you read it. I just wanted to add my own thoughts.

To be fair, Ian's comment is typical of the average person. When I was told that Adam's brain tumour was benign, I sighed with relief. I knew nothing about brain tumours except that cancer is bad and benign isn't so bad. You just get an operation to whip it out, and away you go. Of course it's risky - because cutting your head open and exposing your brain to the world generally is. But on the whole, its fine, right?

This is where Ian Beale and I were seriously mistaken

Here's a few questions: what's worse? Parkinsons or motor neuron disease? A stroke or dementia? Lung cancer or emphysema? Cancerous brain tumour or a benign brain tumour?

See what I mean? It's all subjective, there is no comparison. All illnesses are horrible. They all have their own symptoms and side effects, and none is 'better' or 'worse' than the other.

Cancerous brain tumours grow quickly and invade the brain. Benign brain tumours, on the other hand, grow slowly and do not invade. The downside of this though is that they literally push the brain aside as they grow.

The dictionary definitions of benign are 'gentle and kind' or '(of a disease) not harmful in effect.' So in theory benign tumours sound 'fine' but as Adam's neurosurgeon told us, if it hadn't been diagnosed it would have grown to the point where it killed him. Yes, they kill. Just like cancerous ones do.

It didn't, which is good obviously. But he has lost his job, his mobility, his driving license, his independence. He has chronic pain and can barely walk 20 metres before having to stop and rest. He has weakness in his right side, and poor spacial awareness. He suffers from fatigue, depression and anxiety attacks. The relationship between him and I, although it grew stronger in the interim, is now permanently damaged. His whole life is completely different to what it was.

Gentle and kind? Not harmful?

It's time the word 'benign' was dropped from tumour references altogether. Benign isn't 'fine'. It's still an invasive mass in your body - when can that ever be 'fine'?! Especially when its in your head! And this is something that more people need to be aware of. If you, or someone you know has a benign tumour, you need to know that this isn't a reprieve. Yes, you don't have cancer and that's great, but you are facing a battle regardless. Adam and I learned the hard way. Forewarned is forearmed.

Let's hope that Eastenders makes Alfie's tumour benign, but that it makes his situation realistic, and that he isn't dancing around Albert Square in two months time in perfect health. Television shows have the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of medical issues and show people just how illnesses can affect sufferers and the people around them. I suspect, as always, that the point is to create drama not to raise awareness, but it would be good if Ian's comment could be put into context.

And the more people who know this, the better for us all.

Have you had experience of a benign brain tumour? Any thoughts to add?

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

my word of the year for 2016

I started setting Words of the Year at the end of 2012, inspired by Susannah Conway. New Year's Resolutions are always a bit of a flop, especially for someone like me who changes what they want on a near daily basis. So apart from a couple of writing goals, I prefer to use my word and see how it guides and influences the year.

I like that I can apply it to different areas of my life, plus it gives an overall theme to the year. And I don't have to really do anything, in the sense that there isn't a list of non-achievable 'things I must do this year' that I will inevitably not do and then feel shit about not doing.

2012 was 'awareness' (very successful), 2014 was 'action' (not a success) and 2015 has been 'authentic' (fairly successful). For 2016 I've ditched the unintentional 'A' theme, and have gone with......


There were a few I was keen on but this one stuck. Why 'evolve'? Well, it's definition is to 'develop gradually' or 'shift to a more complex form'. It incorporates synonyms like grow, flourish, progress, mature, transform, expand, adapt, alter, change. But I like 'evolve' because it sounds like a natural process; it isn't forced and we don't quite know how things will pan out. Progress and develop feel more forced - as if there needs to be a goal or set outcome. I like the idea of seeing what arises and not being too attached to any outcome. There's no sense of having arrived, just of continually moving forward and learning.

How I'm going to 'evolve' in 2016:

This year I learned a lot about what is authentic for me, so in 2016 I'll use what I've learned as a guide, and be open to opportunities, especially any that will push me out my comfort zone and towards a more authentic self, as well as remain conscious of that need to live authentically.

Big changes are afoot at work due to massive budget cuts; right now, I have the option to apply for voluntary redundancy or reduced hours. I want to look at how to turn this to my advantage and make the most of this opportunity.

I want to write even more than last year and further evolve in my journey as a writer. I want to enhance my meditation and mindfulness practice, do more Reiki and finish my crystal therapy training.

I want to own less stuff and have more experiences. I want to spend my time wisely and procrastinate less. I want to concentrate more on my own life and stop stressing about how everyone else knows what they want and has their shit together while I'm still clueless. I want to help others evolve too, through some courses I'll hopefully be assisting with.

I've written my word on a pebble that will hopefully serve as a reminder throughout the year, and as with everything else in life, I've started a Pinterest board for quotes, symbols and pictures that inspire me.

I'm really excited about 2016, I'm sensing changes in the air! Hope you all have an awesome year.

What's your 'Word of the Year'? Or do resolutions work for you?